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Government in Action!

It’s Good to Be a British Prisoner (continued): (1) The Portland Young Offenders’ Institute in Dorset recently began holding classes, for up to 30 inmates, in pole-vaulting (but reassured critics that even the most athletic inmates would only get about 13 feet high, whereas the prison walls are 20 feet tall, topped by razor wire). (2) Psychologist Susan Young was paid the equivalent of about $1,000 a day to counsel convicted murderer Barry George during his recent retrial in London, and among her duties, she said, was to massage his head periodically so that he could concentrate better, to assist his lawyers.

In January, the town of Herouxville, Quebec (pop. 1,300), famously enacted a “code” of expectations for immigrants, seemingly aimed at Islamic laws and rituals (for example, requiring gender equality, permitting alcohol, rejecting special diets for prisoners and reaffirming laws against stoning and female genital mutilation). In October, a town spokesman complained that the code had caused Herouxville residents to be called “(m)orons, liars, xenophobes, fascists ... dictators, Nazis, racists ... idiots ... mentally deficient, intolerant, stupid, retarded.” Nonetheless, the town said it would campaign to have the code adopted nationally.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced with great fanfare in June that its repairs and upgrades of levees in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, would allow the system to hold back a future storm’s flood waters even if the level rose more than 5 feet beyond the Katrina level. However, in November, the corps announced that because of a mistake in calculation (an engineer had used a “minus” sign when a “plus” sign was called for), the expensive levee repairs would actually protect against flooding only 6 inches above the Katrina level.

Police Blotter

Least Competent Florida Police: (1) Sheriff’s deputies arrested Cynthia Hunter, 38, in Brandon, Fla., in October, and she remained in jail for 50 days until a lab finally concluded that the “methamphetamine” in her purse was really dried cat urine that she had legally purchased for her son’s science project. (2) Deputies arrested Andrew Johnson, a white man, in Ocoee, Fla., in November, believing he was Anthony Johnson, a black man wanted on a felony drug charge. Andrew Johnson was allowed to post bond while the case was under investigation, but his driver’s license was confiscated, and his mother had to drive him to and from work.

The New Torture: When three men stole drugs from a dealer in Edwardsville, Ill., the dealer and a partner allegedly snatched one of the men and roughed him up, seeking payment for the drugs. In November, police arrested the alleged dealers after the roughed-up victim reported that he had been held down, paddled, had some hair shaved off, and then deliberately burned on the neck and shoulders by having freshly baked cookies taken straight from an oven and held against his skin.

Just Can’t Stop: In recent incidents, two Wal-Mart customers were arrested for shoplifting after yielding to temptation while walking the aisles of stores in Mukwonago, Wis., and Okaloosa County, Fla. The Wisconsin man (reportedly sober for 16 months) impulsively downed seven 12-ounce bottles of Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg Lemonade that he saw on a shelf. Florida’s Christopher White said “the temptation was too great” when he spotted the White Rain hair spray, and that he removed the nozzles of two containers and drank the contents (and returned the empty containers to the shelf).

The Continuing Crisis

In January, Jerome Felske was fired as a truck driver for the city of Chicago when investigators learned that he had 22 criminal convictions on his record. Felske appealed, and in September, the city’s Human Resources Board reinstated him, noting that Felske had actually disclosed six of them on his original application and, as to the others, the board said, the city had not proved Felske “intentionally” hid them. Felske, his lawyer had argued, had simply forgotten about the other 16 (all of which occurred before 1991): “I challenge anyone ... to recall their grocery list from ... two weeks ago.”

Recent Alarming Headlines: (1) “Policeman Shot in Butt With Own Gun While Battling Porn Vending Machine Bandits” (Mainichi Daily News [Tokyo], October). (2) “Man Shoots Goat After Wife Wouldn’t Bring Him Beer” (The Northwestern [Oshkosh, Wis.], November).

People Different From Us

Australian Wayne Scullino, 30, quit his telecom job in Sydney in early 2007, and, after convincing his wife, they sold their house and moved to Wisconsin for the sole purpose of rooting for the Green Bay Packers, about which he had enjoyed an almost inexplicable fascination since age 15. Said Scullino, “At some point, you’ve got to stop living the life you’ve fallen into, and start living the life you want to,” and he feared waiting even one more year, since quarterback Brett Favre might retire after this season. He told the Associated Press in October that the family would probably move back to Australia after the Super Bowl and start all over with a new house and new job.

Alexander Smith, 46, was arrested in Wake Forest, N.C., in November after a serial dumping spree alongside rural roads, starting about a block from his own home. He had allegedly pushed off his truck, at different stops, a washing machine, then a dryer, then two stoves and finally a freezer. He was charged with felony littering.

Least Competent Criminals

Not Ready for Prime Time: (1) Francis Rocca, 24, was arrested in Pittsfield, Mass., and charged with robbing a gas station in November after being identified by his victim, who pointed out that Rocca’s distinctly pimpled face was easily visible underneath the clear plastic bag he wore as a “disguise.” (2) Michael Chatman, 35, and two others were arrested in Augusta, Ga., in November after Chatman, in a Target store, tried to return the laser printer the three had allegedly used for counterfeiting. However, they had accidentally left in the machine not only copies of the counterfeit bills but also the original $20 bill they had used as a model. Said a deputy, “People get wrapped up in the crime, and they forget things.”

Readers’ Choice

(1) Twins Jared and Justin Serovich, age 8, of Gables Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, made it to the finals of a state inventors’ competition this year with their special boxer shorts. The twins’ knickers used fabric fasteners to hold the seams together thus making it nearly impossible for the wearer to be given a “wedgie.” (2) As he crossed a field while walking his dog near his home in Brighton, England, in October, police Inspector Chris Poole, 50, was attacked by about 50 cows. He spent 11 days in the hospital, recovering from the butting and stomping, which cost him four broken bones, a severed artery and a punctured lung.